Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Out to dinner

Eastside Road, December 17, 2014—
BEAR WITH ME: Yes, our favorite East Bay restaurant again. We had to be in Berkeley for an early meeting yesterday, so drove down the previous late afternoon, the weather being what it is, and dined downstairs with the good friend who'd offered her little apartment for the night.

Monday night downstairs is a shorter, less expensive meal, as a general rule, and tonight was no exception, even though it was the first dinner in a week of menus taken from the new book French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton Moullé (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press; haven't read it yet; hope to get to it soon).

J-P was the head chef at Chez Panisse for many many many years, just how many would be difficult to reckon as there were interregna from time to time, but dating way back into the 1970s, and I think his long residency has been perhaps the principal influence on the Chez Panisse style as it has evolved — long on technique, attentive to detail, ultimately concerned with bringing basic household cooking, what I think of as cusine bonne femme, into a sophisticated restaurant dining room. (All this married, of course, to the ethical foundation Alice has demanded, with which he fully agrees.)

This was a decidedly bonne femme menu: salad; rabbit; custard. But look how it was elevated:salad.jpg
Smoked Bolinas black cod and endive salad with crème fraîche
fresh young greens, of course, including chervil, endive, and radicchio, artfully curled and piled up, with a well-calculated percentage of softly poached fish and a drizzle of crème fraîche. Delightful play of textures here.

(I did not take this photo; I forgot. My dinner companion was fortunately more attentive. She usually is.)
Le lapin à la moutarde de Denise:
Devil's Gulch Ranch rabbit braised with mustard and onions; with glazed carrots and peppercress
I came close to not including this photograph, which does not do justice to the visual beauty of the dish — a complex beauty difficult to capture with a telephone! When the plate arrived I lifted it to my face to breathe in the aroma (I do this often; I hope it doesn't bother my companions), and I said Ah, Bistro! But when I tasted the succulent rabbit I said No, not bistro: restaurant. The sweet flavor of rabbit was certainly forward, but enhanced by bay, thyme, and white wine, and no more than exactly the right amount — to my taste, anyway — of Dijon mustard. The recipe is in French Roots, and I'll be cooking it soon, I promise.

Île flottante
That's it in the photo at the top: Floating Island, but nothing like the one my mother used to make, which was My-T-Fine vanilla pudding in a Pyrex bowl with meringue baked on top in the oven of the uncertain wood-burning cookstove. This was an elegant affair, with various preserved and/or stewed fruits decorating the serving, not an island but an archipelago. I almost asked for seconds, but we were at the early seating…
Pinot gris, Zellenberg (Alsace), Marc Tempé, 2011; Morgon, M. Lapierre, 2012
Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
NEXT DAY WE STOPPED for a snack at Bartavelle, the café wedged between Acme Bakery (where we'd gone for a loaf of bread) and Kermit Lynch Imports (where I wanted to go for a case or two of wine, but forbore). I meant to get only a nibble, but was seduced by the crostini: we had two of the brandade, as soft and nicely calculated a brandade as I've had anywhere, including Spain; and one of the ciccioli, nicely crunchy rillettes from Fifth Quarter Charcuterie, a place we're going to have to explore. With these, a half glass of clean, bright Rosato provided by the neighbor, and then an interesting almond-paste cookie with an amarena cherry inside.

Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 510-524-2473red beans.jpg
A DASH ACROSS the bay to the de Young Museum, there to see Keith Haring and (more impressive) great Southwestern ceramics and weavings; and then dinner at a New Orleans-themed place significant to us for the presence of a granddaughter at the host stand — thus does the restaurant industry continue through the generations.

Here I had what the menu listed simply as Red Beans & Sausage. Red beans and rice it was (white for me, thank you, not brown), with a generous amount of pulled pork sustaining the not overcooked beans, and a very nicely grilled, spicy pork andouille sausage, made in house I believe and very tasty.

Like the sausage, the pork in the beans incorporated a certain amount of cartilage, giving bite and texture to the dish. I mushed the rice and beans all together, of course, and ate every bit with pleasure, and was completely satisfied. On the side, collard greens with ham hock, a big serving in a small iron cauldron, easily enough for both of us. With the good hush puppies alongside, this was all I needed for a satisfying supper…
Dolcetto, Palmina Vineyards (Santa Barbara), 2011
Boxing Room Restaurant, 399 Grove Street, San Francisco; 415-430-6590

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